Obscure and Fascinating Facts About Famous Entrepreneurs
Everybody dreams of startup success, but not everybody achieves it.
We’ve put together a list of some of the all-time highest achievers and are revealing their secret paths to the history books. Check out our list of 12 Fascinating Facts about famous entrepreneurs.
1. Bill Gates
Everyone has heard of the Microsoft founder Bill Gates. He may be one of the wealthiest famous entrepreneurs, with a massive fortune of around $79 billion, which at times has afforded him the title of the richest man on the planet. How well do we know Gates though?
One of the quirkiest fun facts about Bill Gates is that his first obsession with computers started with a simple game called tic-tac-toe. He programed his first computer program when he was just in High School. We all have to start somewhere, right?
One of the most fascinating facts about Gates is that he dropped out of Harvard University to found Microsoft. Many probably urged him to stay on and finish his education. But he later said “I’m a bad influence”.
In the early 80’s, IBM desperately needed a computer operating system (OS). Microsoft didn’t have one, but they knew someone who did. So Bill Gates licensed this OS for a paltry $10,000 base, plus $15,000 for every company that used it. IBM paid over $430,000 for (kinda sorta) the same software. And Microsoft could license their new DOS software to other computer manufacturers. Score!
Bill Gates then went on to become the youngest billionaire in history. But that didn’t stop him still being himself. Like in this interview where he randomly jumps over an office chair.
2. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah might be known to most as a talk show host and one of the richest women on Earth.
But most don’t know that she survived growing up in poverty to overwhelmed teenagers. Oprah was so poor that she often wore potato sack dresses, only receiving her first shoes at the age of six. At the age of thirteen Oprah would run away from home completely.
Interestingly, her real name is Orpah after a Biblical character. The Orpah of the Bible had it quite hard as well. Most people mispronounced her name, so the incorrect “Oprah” stuck.
These obstacles didn’t stop her from using education and sharp conversation skills to her advantage. Going from honors student to voted “Most Popular”, she also happened to pick up Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant at 17. These accolades led to a full scholarship through college, making her a perfect fit to join a local news network.
Her very first TV job did not go well, in fact, it was so bad she was fired and then told she was useless on television! The moral of this story is always follow your heart and don’t listen to what others say. Winfrey has often been quoted saying this very same thing. That didn’t stop her from moving to Chicago to take on a little talk show that would quickly dominate national ratings for decades.
3. Mark Zuckerberg
Most people know the story of Mark Zuckerberg and his invention of the now very popular social media platform Facebook. Most also know that he started the communication portal whilst at university to help the campus crowd socialize and get to know one another. Ironically, he dropped out of Harvard once it went live.
But Harvard didn’t laud his accomplishments at the time. When Mark launched a prototype the newspaper called it “completely improper”.
Unlike most famous entrepreneurs, Mark was a billionaire by the time he was 23. He won the prestigious title of youngest billionaire in 2008. Since then, Facebook has acquired Instagram, created Messenger, and acquired Oculus, and built Internet.org, among hundreds of other successful ventures.
Today Mark’s organization holds 3 of the top 5 most downloaded iPhone apps in 2017. Not bad, right? Yet, Facebook’s domination of mobile computing wasn’t without stumbles. When smart phones debuted Facebook had only 50,000,000 users. Their tiered app and HTML5 strategy for world domination was risky, but it paid off.
Recently we learned that Mark always sticks tape over his built-in computer web-cam and microphone. Certainly makes one think, doesn’t it?
3 things about this photo of Zuck:
Camera covered with tape
Mic jack covered with tape
Email client is Thunderbird pic.twitter.com/vdQlF7RjQt
— Chris Olson (@topherolson) June 21, 2016
4. Lord Alan Sugar
Alan Sugar started his life in very humble beginnings, living in supported housing in the UK. His father was a tailor and by all accounts no one knew how this astute businessman would amass a massive fortune by simply trading shares and dabbling in various business deals.
He seemed to have been blessed with the business acumen gene and headed many projects including dabbling in export/import, electronics and founding the company Amstrad which was part of his initials. While not a household name as much today, Amstrad was a pioneer of desktop computers.
The company listed on the London Stock Exchange and at its highest ever price reached an impressive £1.2 billion.
What’s really fascinating about Alan Sugar? He mostly has contempt for university graduates. He feels that real qualifications come from life experience. This certainly makes sense when you consider he was wheeling and dealing by the age of 13 and was already making a profit by selling something as simple as photography film.
He also has a contempt for journalists and footballers, saying “Most footballers would be in jail if they weren’t playing football”. So, maybe not the first person you’d call up for a light lunch, eh?
5. Denise Coates
Denise Coates is one of the richest women in Britain and is a self-made billionaire. Her fortune is said to be around $1.4 billion.
Always showing promise and focused on finance, even in her early life, she earned a first class degree in Economics at the University of Sheffield, England. Oddly, the first person on this list to have completed her graduation!
She also trained as an accountant and so it was no surprise when she launched one of the first online betting sites named Bet365. Designing the betting site on her own, it took over a year to complete.
Adding to the pressure, she borrowed £15 million to make the launch a success. Considering they made £2.8 billion in 2017, her gamble paid off swimmingly.
Like many famous entrepreneurs, she is also a very keen philanthropist. She has given away large sums of money to many charities, including Oxfam, a charity in Africa that help those suffering with AIDS. Her list of chosen charities is too long to mention here, but her total donations in 2015 came to $165 Million.
6. Sarah Blakely
Sarah Blakely is the mastermind behind ‘Spanx’, an industry leader in female undergarments that create a smoother silhouette. She was estimated to be worth $1.4 billion in 2017.
She developed this genius idea by following her intuition that a market was out there. But it wasn’t instant success. She first tried her hand at being an attorney and a comedian, before finding sales.
Going door-to-door selling fax machine is hard. But it is even harder when you’re wearing pantyhose in the Florida Summer heat. Using $5,000 in savings, she developed a prototype and headed off to pitch manufacturing companies. Which all promptly turned her down.
Two weeks after she returned home defeated, one mill had reconsidered. The owner mentioned the concept to his daughters who loved the concept.
Oprah learned about Spanx because of Blakely’s great sales vision, who shared a gift basket in hopes to win her over to the concept before a product was in market. Oprah made Blakely’s invention a”Favorite Product”, leading to $4,000,000 sales in the first year and eventual billionaire status.
7. Andrew Carnegie
Recognized as one of the richest men in America ever, Carnegie grew and expanded industrialized America beyond expectation during the 19th century.
Andrew Carnegie hailed from Scotland and was described by many as Scottish-American. His humble abode in his early life was Dunfermline, Fife in Scotland where his family lived in an unassuming cottage. The family immigrated when he was a young man.
In 1901 Andrew sold Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Steel Company to J.P. Morgan for $480,000,000. Considering the average weekly wage per week was $12-$15 at this time, Carnegie had wealth beyond imagination. Today his net worth would be over $372,000,000,000, or $372 billion dollars.
The fascinating thing about Andrew Carnegie was that he became more interested in philanthropy than his own success in later life. He even wrote books, which can be read for free here, in the hope that other famous entrepreneurs would use their wealth to improve society and the lives of others. He donated 90% of his wealth to charities and projects with philanthropic themes.
8. Richard Branson
Branson, known as one of the biggest business men and philanthropists in the world, hardly needs any introduction these days. He is now well known for his Virgin chain, which enabled over 400 companies to open around the world.
When his mom was concerned over his lack of childhood curiosity she drove him to the countryside and let him find his way home. This fostered an adventurous spirit he’s known for today. Shirking formal education, Branson never graduated High School to start his first business.
One of his favored quotes by many, ‘You learn by falling over’ is often used in marketing seminars to motivate and propel people forward in order to achieve. He even called his business ‘Virgin’ because he had no idea what he was doing.
Interestingly, Branson suffers from Dyslexia, a fact that didn’t stop him from spearheading (and selling) his own student magazine. Another fascinating fact about him is that he proclaims he’s not an adventurous type at all!
9. Anita Roddick
Anita Roddick was the creator of the very well known cosmetic company ‘The Body Shop’.
Her whole slant on cosmetics and beauty was not only to stick with natural products but also shape what is known as Ethical Consumerism. This is a fancy way of saying good products shouldn’t hurt others, with business being a powerful form of moral leadership.
The original ‘The Body Shop’ was located between two funeral parlors, started while Anita was single-handily raising her two daughters. She called her success “a series of brilliant accidents”.
Sadly Anita died in 2007 after contracting Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion.
Roddick stands out from other famous entrepreneurs because she she left all of her wealth to charities and foundations and none at all to family and friends. She also wrote a book titled Take it Personally which focused on the exploitation of impoverished people in underdeveloped countries. Anita was a badass.
10. Walt Disney
Known as not only a film producer, but also an animator, voice actor, and one of Americas most successful visionary entrepreneurs, Walt Disney is still a name known to every family.
His passion lay in cartoon illustrations and this led to his first job in commercial illustration. His resume is littered with awards including Golden Globes, Oscars and Emmy awards.
Some might not know that his first big success wasn’t with Mickey Mouse. Disney Studios created the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit with their partner Universal Studios, but when they asked for a raise for each film their partner demanded a 20% reduction in cost instead. Universal also quickly reminded Disney they owned Oswald, stealing much of his team to continue the character’s films. Mickey Mouse was created in response, forcing Walt to restart his team, and solidifying Walt’s continued obsession with full creative control over his work.
A fascinating fact about Walt Disney is that he was painfully shy, self-deprecating and bashful. Walt was short for Walter and he often admitted to living behind the guise of Walt, not Walter. Walt he said, was the outgoing guy, the one that smoked too much and was popular. Walter, on the other hand was the shy introvert who really couldn’t even socialize.
11. Cher Wang
With an amassed fortune of over $1.6 Billion, Cher Wang is a leader within the realm of famous entrepreneurs. She made her millions in technology, namely mobile phones. She is co-founder of one of the largest mobile phone companies, HTC.
HTC stands for High Technology Company. She got the idea while hauling desktop computer parts around, wondering what computers might be like if they were lighter.
This vision pushed HTC towards innovation, making 1,000 prototypes for every product they’d launch. Eventually they became the first phone company to use Android, at one time dominating the market.
An interesting fact about Cher Wang is that her father died the 2nd richest man in Taiwan. Thus, Wang was no stranger to riches even before accumulating her own. Her father was the founder of a massive plastics company and Cher is labelled as one of the world leaders in smart-phone technology. With success in two very different careers, it would appear this family is blessed with the gene of entrepreneurship.
12. Michael Bloomberg
With a whopping fortune of $54 Billion plus, Michael Bloomberg sits well within the top richest men in the United States, ranking in at 6th. He is the founder and owner of Bloomberg, which includes media and technology as well as financial services.
Bloomberg was not always wealthy. Born to Russian immigrants, he worked as a parking attendant to put himself through college. He took a number of menial jobs before hitting it big.
Michael Bloomberg became an Eagle Scout, which only 4% of scouts ever achieve. He’s proficient in Morse Code and built Ham radios for fun in his youth.
He eventually graduated from Harvard Business School, leading to his becoming a partner in a Wall Street trading firm. When he was laid off he left with a small equity package of $10,000,000. This nest egg was what he used to bring computers to financial trading, revolutionizing an industry and leading to further success.
When he was elected the Mayor of New York, he only took a salary of $1.00 per year.